News groups unite to challenge injunction

Major newspapers and broadcasters have joined together in a bid to challenge a Law Society injunction stopping all courts in the UK from releasing information under a new rule.

Ten news groups have united against the injunction and instructed Andrew Caldecott QC to represent them. They include the BBC, Telegraph Group, Guardian Newspapers, The Independent, Financial Times, News Group Newspapers, Associated, Times Newspapers, Bloomberg and the Daily Mirror.

High Court judge Mr Justice Irwin granted the Law Society, the professional body of solicitors, an injunction against court officer Michael Parker and HM Courts Service at 4pm on Friday afternoon.

The injunction bans court offices in the UK from releasing information under a new rule which should have taken effect on 2 October, allowing people to inspect court documents in civil cases.

This is thought to be the first time that courts throughout the UK have been gagged. Although it is common for legal challenges, it is unheard of for the Law Society to sue the courts.

The Law Society chief executive, Desmond Hudson, said: “Several of our members became concerned last week that the change would apply not only to new cases but also retrospectively to old cases, many of which have long been closed.

“The Court Service reversed its position on the interpretation of the rule, putting many clients in the unreasonable position of having to apply to court at very short notice if they wanted statements to remain confidential.”

The two top procedural judges at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Chief Chancery Master and the Senior Master, had decided that the rule should be applied retrospectively, allowing people not involved in the cases to get hold of documents giving details.

The Senior Master of the High Court has banned his staff from producing copies of any documents requested by journalists or the public.

Staff were told that they were not permitted to copy any documents until the court had clarified the exact position at a full hearing of the case on Thursday this week (5 October).

Ironically, the court has refused to supply copies of the injunction, which should be available under the old rules and the new rules. But the Law Society has published a copy of the injunction on its website.

Commenting prior to the injunction on the proposed rule changes, Sir Ron De Witt, HM Courts Service chief executive, said: “Openness in the courts system is vital to ensure that justice is seen to be done. Most civil proceedings are open to public scrutiny. The new rules mean that documents supporting cases are equally open for viewing.”

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